By Colleen Sulsberger
Protecting the Innocent
Below is a question from a recent Virtus monthly bulletin:
What can happen if the pastors, principals, directors of religious education and church administrators fail to implement Step Two: Control Through Screening in their places of worship or ministry?
A. A person with a criminal offense record who is totally inappropriate for ministry with children could move from another state and begin work as a youth ministry volunteer with children in your parish.
B. The local community would not be aware of the presence of the Protecting God’s Children programs through parish announcements and the school website.
C. Children could be placed in harm’s way by receiving late night texts from their coach.
D. All of the above.
Of course the correct answer is D – all of the above. The three answers reflect three important parts of our over-all child protection programs, namely background checking, making our school and parish communities aware of available training and information, and educating children as well as adults about inappropriate behaviors. Failure to perform any one of these steps could place a child in danger.
We have accomplished a lot in the past few years in terms of improving our child protection policies and programs in the Diocese of Sioux City. We have strengthened our training programs for adults and recently, we have added comprehensive training for children, enabling them to identify safe adults and empowering them to protect themselves from abuse. We have improved the accuracy of our database, helping to ensure that all those who work with children are properly vetted. We do need to celebrate these successes, but we also must become preoccupied with our failures or near failures.
Preoccupation with failure is a characteristic of an organization of high reliability. High reliability organizations see failure as an opportunity to improve. It is the ability to learn from our mistakes. In order to maintain a truly safe environment for children, we must create a culture where we actively look for weaknesses in our programs.
Do we sometimes fail to get cleared background checks on every volunteer, or do we hire employees without getting a clear background check first? Does everyone working with kids in our parishes and schools keep up with the monthly bulletins? Are some missing training? Does everyone know how to bring a concern forward when or if they see inappropriate behavior in a co-worker? Does our school or parish have a culture where everyone feels free and welcome to talk to superiors about problems or concerns?
These are difficult questions, but necessary ones. Becoming preoccupied with failure is one way we can avoid complacency and remain vigilant in our child protection efforts.
Colleen Sulsberger is coordinator of the Office of Safe Environment for the Diocese of Sioux City.